Life jackets out to dry after a Sea-Watch mission | Photo: Sea-Watch
Life jackets out to dry after a Sea-Watch mission | Photo: Sea-Watch

Private migrant rescue vessels Sea-Watch 3 and Mare Jonio over the weekend disembarked close to 300 migrants on the Italian island of Sicily. The arrivals in Italy were the first of their kind since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

German NGO search and rescue (SAR) vessel Sea-Watch 3 on Sunday arrived in the port of Porto Empedocle on the Italian island of Sicily with 211 migrants on board.

"Medical check-up is underway before the transshipment of 211 people to ferry Moby Zazá, where a precautionary quarantine period in port will take place," the German charity said on Twitter.

In late May, a Tunisian man drowned after throwing himself off the Moby Zazá at Porto Empedocle. NGOs have criticized the fact that rescued migrants are quarantined on ships due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sea-Watch also demanded for the distribution of the migrants to EU countries "without delay."

According to Sea-Watch, the crew of the Sea-Watch 3 picked up the migrants between Wednesday and Friday last week from three separate boats.

When Sea-Watch resumed rescue operations earlier this month in the central Mediterranean, it was the first private rescue organization to do so after coronavirus restriction measures had halted humanitarian missions in March.

About one year ago, then Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete entered the Italian port of Lampedusa without authorization following a two-week standoff between her and Italian authorities.

Mare Jonio disembarks 67 migrants

Meanwhile, on Saturday, which also marked World Refugee Day, the Mare Jonio brought 67 migrants to safety in Pozzallo in Sicily following a rescue on Friday after the migrants' boat had run into difficulty some 40 nautical miles (70 kilometers) off Lampedusa.

The arrival of the Mare Jonio ship on Sicily was hailed by human rights organizations, who noted the unusual speed with which Italy assigned the Mediterranea charity group a port.

"For the first time for years, a 'place of safety' has been assigned in less than 24 hours. It should be automatic," Italian journalist and migrant specialist Nello Scavo tweeted.

Italian NGO Mediterranea Saving Humans, which operates the Mare Jonio, said the migrants had been without water for two days.

The landing in Pozzallo was the first time since April that a charity vessel disembarked there. Due to safety concerns amid the coronavirus outbreak, Italy had decided to close its ports to NGO-run migrant rescue vessels.

Fellow EU member Malta also closed its ports to migrants as the pandemic started to spread. This triggered criticism from human rights groups, which said that the COVID-19 lung disease was used as a pretext to block migrants and prevent them from entering their countries.

Crossings continue despite COVID-19

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 227 people have died trying to cross the central Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, down from 358 during the same period last year.

Despite the pandemic, migrants keep escaping Libya for Europe. Human rights organizations criticize that migrants are brought back to war-torn Libya with EU funds where they face severe mistreatment.

With material from dpa


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